Billy Graham Center
Collection 219 - Bertil Ogren. T1 Transcript
Click here to listen to an audio file of this interview (95 minutes)
This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the first oral history interview of Bertil A. Ogren (CN 219, T1) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words have been omitted, except for any non-English phrases which could not be understood by the transcribers. Foreign terms which are not commonly understood appear in italics. In very few cases words were too unclear to be distinguished. If the transcriber was not completely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted after the word or phrase in question. If the speech was inaudible or indistinguishable, "[unclear]" was inserted. Grunts and verbal hesitations such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. The transcribers have not attempted to phonetically replicate English dialects but have instead entered the standard English word the speaker was expressing.
Readers should remember that this is a transcript of spoken English, which follows a different rhythm and rule than written English.
... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence on the part of the speaker.
.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
( ) Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
[ ] Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.
This transcript was made by Robert Shuster and Harun Njuguna Mathenge and was completed in December 2013.
Collection 219, T1. Interview of Bertril A. Ogren by Robert Shuster on June 22, 1982.
SHUSTER: [noise in background] This is an interview with Mr. Bert Ogren by Robert Shuster for the Missionary Sources Collection of Wheaton College. This interview took place at the Billy Graham Center on June 22, at nine o'clock A.M. Mr. Ogren why don't we start with some of your family background. Where were your...where were you born?
OGREN: I was born in Lockport, Illinois a few years back.
SHUSTER: And what were your parents' name?
OGREN: My father and mother were both born in Sweden. However, they met in Joliet, Illinois. My father was Carl Ogren. My mother was Almida Meer [?],whose father was a school teacher and church organist in Sweden back in the late '80s, so my mother was born in a school house. They came in Joliet and were married in the Salvation Army [pauses] Chapel.
SHUSTER: Was your father also a printer?
OGREN: No, my father worked for D.L. Tom Manufacturing who made builders’ hardware.
SHUSTER: And what about brothers and sisters?
OGREN: I had two brothers, both passed away, and I have a younger sister, and my older brother was Clarence. He was in the printing business as well as I was. In fact, all three brothers were in the printing business from the time we were freshmen in high school and my second brother got his job basically from the Midwest Stock Exchange right out of high school. He was there for forty-three years and went to...to the...just to the...next to the top office as the executive vice-president of the Midwest Stock Exchange. My brother Clarence was the vice president of a printing firm in Chicago, and then my sister married and lives in LaGrange, Illinois, whose husband is a...an account...accounting man, C.P.A. and head of an accounting firm in...in Chicago, Fencing and Keenan [?], and I was with LaSalle Street Press for the last twenty-two years, my working years and in sales, and the vice president of sales.
SHUSTER: And what was your younger brother's name?
SHUSTER: Your younger brother's name?
OGREN: My younger brother's name was Carl.
SHUSTER: And your sister?
SHUSTER: How did it happen that both you and your brother became involved in printing?
OGREN: Well, that's an interesting story. My family had intended to move back to Sweden about the time I was born in 1914, but the war came on and then my older brother became older and had a little bit more opinion of his own so that by the time 1919, 1920 came along when they thought they would move to Sweden.... Well, first of all the economy was bad in the old country and so my uncle in Sweden wrote to my dad and said, "You better stay where you are. Things aren't so very good over in Sweden." And my older brother at that time was twelve years old, and he said that he didn't think he'd want to go back, go to Sweden and live, a young American boy. So we moved to Chicago then instead of moving to Sweden, and he went to continuation school, my brother did. And one of his subjects that he studied was printing, and he had a real love for the printing business and that's how we got into the printing business. And as I said before that in high school...well, anyway when, in 19... or, or those years...from the time he was a sophomore through his high school years he bought a little printing plant, established a little printing plant, Clarence Or...Ogren Printing Company and he ran that. And then my second brother Carl ran it the three, four years he was in high school. And then I followed up and...and ran it the three years I was there. Well, then I graduated from high school right in the Depression in 1931 and with no jobs and no money, I...I expanded the printing business into the Ogren Press, which I was with then until I went to Africa...
OGREN: ...in 1948.
SHUSTER: What was the religious background in your family?
OGREN: The which?
SHUSTER: Religious background.
OGREN: Religious background. My mother...my father came out of the [Swedish term] which is really the sister church of the Evangelical Covenant Church in this country. And there were revival movements in Sweden in the late ‘80s. His parents and family, and friends, many, many who became Christians at that time. My mother belonged to the state church in...I think that her Christian experience probably became a reality in this country...
SHUSTER: The state church was Lutheran?
OGREN: ...with the Salvation Army. Pardon?
SHUSTER: The state church was Lutheran?
OGREN: Yes. Right. It's interesting that my mother was confirmed in Mönsterås, Sweden about the same year that "How Great Thou Art" was written...
OGREN: ...which came out of Mönsterås, which I always relate thinking that she may have known the man who wrote it, maybe lived across the street from him. However, I don't know that and I don't know that she was aware of that...
OGREN: ...but I discovered that.
SHUSTER: You say your family also had some involvement with the Salvation Army or...?
OGREN: Well, just those few...just those few years at Joliet and my dad moved; subsequently they moved to Lockport where they were married. There was no Salvation Army group in Lockport and so they tried the Covenant Church in Lockport at that time and it wasn't long after, I think, that the Salvation Army, the Swedish core in Joliet, disbanded.
SHUSTER: Would you say that yours was a very devout home?
OGREN: Oh yes, yes. My mother and father were. My father was a saint and so was my mother, and his father ahead of him was a saintly man. In fact, of the church chairmen of the church, his brother...his brother had come from Sweden and attended North Park and graduated from the seminary at North Park and was actually a pastor in the Lockport church for a few months, took sick and decided to return to Sweden...
OGREN: ...and went to Sweden and lived there his entire life, married and had a family and, oh, was a pastor in [Swedish term].
SHUSTER: So the family's faith was important.
OGREN: Oh yes, right. Yes, my brother was a very active Christian man, was chairman of the church, Sunday school superintendent, choir director. My father was organist for fifteen years, my brother was organist for twenty-five. My niece was organist for ten in the Lockport church. We...my uncle was choir director for about ten years, my brother was choir director for forty-three and I've been choir director for ten, so it’s sort of embarrassing to say that we've tied up the music in the Lockport church for almost three quarters of a century. [laughs]
SHUSTER: Is...what about your own conversion? How did that come about?
OGREN: Well, that happened when...of course, being raised in a Christian home, great relevance for my mother's and father's faith, I did actually have a conversion experience in 1928 when Reverend Eric Hawkinson, who was (I am not sure that he was dean of North Park Seminary at that point)...but he was in Lockport for some meetings and I did have a commitment experience at that point which I never will forget. And my wife also came out of a Baptist background and had no experience of that kind, was in a meeting of our church one evening when a visiting pastor was there and she too became a Christian with a definite conversion, even though a she was a good girl and didn't really need to change her way of life. She's a saintly person herself, but she did have a Christian experience. That was the only time (she was in nurses training at the time)...that was the only time in all the three years that she was in nurses training that I remember that she didn't care whether she got in on time or not, ‘cause the meeting was lasting too long and we came late to the hospital. "Makes no difference.” It was real.
SHUSTER: Did...was there much emphasis when you were growing in the church up on missions, on mission activity around the world?
OGREN: Quite a bit and one reason for that was that we had out of our church membership Revered Joel Johnson who was in our church. Born and raised in Sweden, but came to this country and lived in Lockport and became a missionary for the Covenant Church in China. So that had an impact on us, I think. And I think it probably did on me too, there's no question about it. In fact, as a young man, I felt that I would become a missionary.
SHUSTER: Why? What attracted you?
OGREN: Well, I think I had an interest in travel and overseas and.... There was a romance about that. And I read about missions. My mother used to talk about the stories of missionaries that she had read and heard about as youngster in Sweden and my dad did too. That's where I was in my own thinking, that maybe someday I would be a missionary.
SHUSTER: Did you think of yourself as a missionary in a particular part of the world?
OGREN: Not really. And then as the years went on and I was in my printing business and I was doing printing for the Covenant Church and...including the board of world missions. I was involved in printing their literature that was...then becoming more popular to have printed material and so I was aware of all these stories, the biographies, and the histories of mission, so I was really quite well versed on all the mission fields of the Covenant. That had some influence on me too.
SHUSTER: What kind of knowledge did you have of Africa before you went?
OGREN: Not a great deal. I did try to acquire knowledge. Remember there was not very much about the Belgian Congo. I think I mentioned that before, but the....
SHUSTER: Well, I meant even before you volunteered as a missionary....
OGREN: Well, I was always interested in the...in the world. Geography was my best subject in school as a kid. I loved the maps. I used to make relief maps of various places for the world. I will say that I thought that South America was probably my most interesting continent, and interesting enough, that's one continent I have not been to. [laughs] But I was interested in travel and geography and to verify that fact, when I was seventeen I wrote to the Cunard Line and asked them for a job on one of their ships in the printing department. Because I wanted to travel. I said, “My brothers and my sister, if they're satisfied with being in home, at home, living in Illinois, that's fine. But as for me, I'm going to see the world.” [chuckles] And I received a letter back from them, it said, "Well, you have to be an English subject to get a job on our ship." Then I a few months later, I got appendicitis and went to the hospital and I killed my travel desires at that time. And my wife was a student nurse at that point and I met her and changed my plans for the immediate future. But when we went to Africa, "Well, I am traveling but I am not traveling alone, I'm traveling with a wife and three children.” [chuckles] And we did travel by freighter and I was interested in freight travel. I had literature at home that that.... Well, that’s.... So I had that in my system.
SHUSTER: How did you come to volunteer as a printer for LECO?
OGREN: I didn't volunteer. We were doing some printing at the Ogren press in Lockport, as I indicated. We had done a lot of printing for the North Park College and for the church office. And the Covenant youth department established that the first quadrennial convention to be held in 1946 to be held out in Connecticut, Cromwell, at the orphanages there, orphans home and institution that Covenant was affiliated with. And doing the printing, there again I was on the inside track of what was happening. The literature, propaganda about the meetings, the registration forms and so forth. So I went to the Covenant office with a little packet of forms and just signed up. I said to my wife and I...I said to my wife, "You and I are going to this convention," even though we were married and had two children. And we were registrants number one and number two [chuckles] for the first quadrennial of the Covenant. And we went and the...there were different seminars. One seminar was (I'm not sure I 'm quoting it correcting, but...) "The Debt of Christian Youth in America to the Youth of Other Lands." That was the title of the seminar and so we attended that seminar and the secretary of world missions, Reverend Ralph Hanson was its leader and we were in that group the whole week. And the first week we were there, someone from Grand Rapids stood up, gave his testimony and quoted Romans 12, the first and second verses. And that sort of went right through me. "To present your bodies a living sacrifice." And at the close of the week, Reverend Hanson, whom I'd known and had been doing work for, suggested that we might be interested in going to Africa and heading up this printing department. And I thought that was quite a honor, you know, to be suggested. And on the way home to Chicago that evening, on the train, Reverend Hanson wrote a letter to Dr. Theodore W. Anderson, our president of our Covenant [denomination] who was at that time visiting Africa, Belgian Congo. And wrote to him just to get confirmation that there was a need, because he had known that there was, but he wanted sure that it was still current. And Dr. Anderson went in and checked with Dr. Carpenter, who we became acquainted with and worked with for several years and said, "Yes, we are looking for someone. We had someone that was coming and that didn't work out and so we do need someone in the world to come and fill this position.” He wrote back to the church office and the church office wrote to me and said,"If you are interested, write to Dr. Carpenter." And I wrote a small letter, a few lines, said we were interested, and received back eight pages of eight-and-a-half by eleven [inches, letter-size] typed from edge to edge telling us the whole story about the publishing house out there and the hopes for the future and the printing department. And there were no questions that were there. We could take it or leave it. And with that kind of a...a thrust, we just could not help but pursue it. God was working on us. At first I was not that interested. We had just spent money on the printing business in Lockport, my brother had left his position in Chicago, and we were going ahead and make a big thing. And...and so it was a complete turn around for me to leave.... I was a little bit reluctant about leaving him after he had left a good position in Chicago...
OGREN: ...to come to work with me and then I go off to Africa. But as you look back, it was the Lord's will. Seems to me that now I had somebody to continue the operation while we were gone. So, we went with his blessing because he was also, you know, a committed man. Even though he never had a call to goto the mission field, we did, so we went with his blessing. So then we made a formal application to the Covenant Church and then Free Church, Evangelical Free Church because they worked together in the Congo at that time...well, they still do. And we were accepted to go as the first vocational missionaries in the Mission Covenant Church of America.
SHUSTER: So what would you say were the main factors in your decision to go, in your...?
OGREN: Well, my background. I remember saying,...saying to my brothers...they were together. This was right after the war, Second World War. And sixty-five of our young people went to the service out of one small church in Lockport. None of us went. I had...my eyes weren't good. My older brother's eyes weren't good. And my other brother had suffered a broken collar bone; and it wasn't set properly. It so happened [that] they were too old. I was not that young either but I was thirty years old when they called me up. Well, at that point hey were taking only perfect specimens. [On] the day we went to Chicago for examination, two-thirds of them were rejected. So what I am saying is [that] none of us in the family were able to serve our country. I said to them...I remember this, (and God hears these things), I said, "God spared us for His service." And of course, they were serving in the church. And I was Sunday school teacher, choir member, an officer, one of the trustees you know. But I think no question that God hears statements that young people might...(and you better be ready to back up what they say). And in other experiences too, actually back in 1942, there was a notice in the Covenant Opinion that there was a need for a builder. Out in Zaire, Belgian Congo. We had little children at that time. I said to my wife, "Here it is. Right out of the clear."We didn't pursue that. For the reason I don't know why. Rev. Harvey Whitman, who was a teacher out in Lincoln, Nebraska, high school or college out there, he went and has been in missions ever since. Out of that experience. Four years later, I believe. We had this contact. We were ready. We had made our commitment in a sense. If God was looking for someone, we were ready to go.
SHUSTER: Did you...was it unusual for a whole family to go out this way? Your wife and children?
OGREN: Well, not so much the war. It would've been before the World War. But after the war then missionary families were going with children. But even when we went, the British and Swedish people usually, if they had children, brought them back to their home country. And the children were educated and raised in England or Sweden.
OGREN: It was a little unusual when we came in 1948 with three children. They thought, "Well, that's not the way it should be done.” And that changed through the years. And other American missions, American Presbyterian had a good school program down in central Congo for their children for many years actually, so it was not that unique.
SHUSTER: Did you ever consider just you and your wife going or was it always planned to go as a family?
OGREN: Oh, we wouldn’t gone without our children at that point, I mean. We were not encouraged to. I mean from our context, Dr. Carpenter and his wife “Oh, bring their family and bring their furniture. We'll ship their furniture so that they feel at home,” because that is very important. You're not at home anyway. So that the more you can do to feel comfortable, the better it is. But that is sort of a contrary philosophy to what the British had been accustomed to. They felt that being without your children and living a very sacrificial life was he way to go and Americans have a little different idea.
SHUSTER: When your friends and associates, people you worked, found out that you're going to Africa as a missionary, how did they react?
OGREN: Well, some people said that we were crazy. Some people said, "Oh. I suppose that you're going to make a lot of money.” Some people, who use to swear in my presence, would now begin to say, "Oh. I'm sorry."
OGREN: Ooh yes, I was a different person. People who were overly devout (and there are some like that) all of a sudden became very friendly. That kind of very unique ‘cause I was in the business world, not a pastor, I was in the world. I hadn’t changed, but people were changing around me. That was kind of interesting.
SHUSTER: Why did people think you were crazy?
OGREN: Well, leave your business, take your family and go to that god-forsaken place, ‘cause that was the way it was in ‘46, ‘47, and ‘48. ‘Cause the articles in the paper that the headline that said, “Ogrens to leave civilization.” That was the opinion of most people, but we had the blessing of most definitely the people from our church group and many of our friends. But there was no way anybody on the outside would on that point have any influence on our commitment. And I said, “They’re the losers.” I wouldn’t have stayed home at that point for all the money in the United States. And yet we did not know what salary we were going to make and I couldn’t care less, because I figure out a lot of people can live on it, so can we. So we were mentally prepared to go. Even though our youngest was four months old and they thought, “Well, the Ogrens are really off their rockers now.”
SHUSTER: What kind of preparation or candidate score did you have to have before you left?
OGREN: Well, we really had none. But one thing, this been a sort of an...well, it was a corporation on its own. And money hadn’t been subscribed for the corporation in forms of stock purchases by mission and the British mission society ever since.... However, the funds were depleted because the costs of building were going up all the time and what was budgeted was not sufficient. And there was a shortage of money. So we were told, if they had money we would go to Europe for a year and study French, like other missionaries. But they didn’t have any funds. And I had a year of French in high school. I went to work and studied, the best I could on my own, with records, the dictionary and everything else and start using the French language and we did have, of course, the knowledge of the printing business and that was most important. And we went directly to Belgian Congo. Came on Tuesday night and went to work Wednesday at 8 o’clock. There was no time for preparation.
SHUSTER: Well, if you were going to give advice to somebody who was going out today in a similar situation to yourself as a vocational missionary, would there been anything...any kind of preparation you would especially suggest they make or any kind of orientation program that would be helpful to them?
OGREN: Well, I think what we did was what helpful. I read as much as you can about the country, encyclopedia and what other publications there were (and they weren’t that many). That’s certainly helpful. As far as language...I think, yes. I think that should be, you know, a definite requirement to go some place three months, six months or how long you...and just concentrate on a language because communication is, of course, is vital. But being in a technical field and...you can show people without saying very many words and they can learn. And the Africans have that ability to (and I suppose most people do in the world)...if there is lack communication in the language they can learn by just watching. And this what happened. Of course, I did have my dictionary with me all the time the first few week. And the African language was no problem, because all the technical terms would not be available in French...in African language anyway. So we used French and the Africans’ French was limited and my French was limited. But by working like with the equipment, they would catch on by...without much communication. So it worked, it was no problem. Within six months after we started the press was in full operation and making money. We hired the personnel and trained them up. The first six months, however, I did...walked around with an apron and tools in my pocket to the...I went to the folder machine, the presses, one after another, to typecasting, I did all the work and they looked and caught on. And in six months time I think they were pretty much on their own. I checked everything. They never started the presses, they never started typesetting, the folding equipment, cutters without me giving the okay. And eventually it just become as automatic. They were just as proficient and capable as workmen in this country.
SHUSTER: Did you have any trouble getting the necessary visas or permission to go to...enter the Congo?
OGREN: No. The church office in Chicago, the Covenant Church office, helped us with that ‘cause we were considered as part of the missionaries, all the documents and so forth were out of the church office. So that was well taken care of. And the Belgian government in 194...well, after the war (I am not sure how much before that), were very anxious to get people out there and did everything they could. Because education was...was...very important to them and they wanted all the African children to be educated. And so they subsidized the Protestant schools as well as Catholic schools. And so we were considered real friends. They wanted us there. We were welcomed open arms. They did everything to make our entry very easy.
SHUSTER: How did you travel to Africa?
OGREN: Well, we took the family and went to New York on the train and took a freight ship from Pier 14 off the river, lower [East] River in New York, sailed to Cape Verde Islands, which was the only stop, for part of day. And then we went into...we went to the coast of Africa and I can describe that for just a moment. Because they said in the evening, “We will would be seeing the coast some time in the middle of night,” so...but they would not attempt navigate the Congo River until daylight.
OGREN: So I suppose by two o’clock in the morning the ship came to a sort of a stop and anchored. And my wife and I rode on the deck, at least I was on deck most of time the kids were asleep. And we sat there and waited for dawn because we were heading east, so the dawn would be coming up the direction we were going. And at first we could see just a ray of light, then the tops of palm trees, then the African huts, then we got a little bit deeper we would eventually see the water before us and fellows who were fishing in their little African speedboats [?]. Then came the dams in the center and the engine started and we went on the big Congo River. And came up on the Congo River, I suppose about noon. It was about up to six hours trip from coast into Matadi.
SHUSTER: Where did you disembarked?
SHUSTER: You disembarked at...?
OGREN: We disembarked on Matadi. There...there’s...there’s a Swedish mission there, the Svenska Missionsförbundet, the Swiss Mission of Sweden. They work there. Their missionaries always welcome boats and the passengers. So it was that time that the Swedish missionary came on board. And the other passengers aboard said to me...to me. “We better not talk to this fellow, you’re the only one who can talk to him.” And I started working on my Swedish at that point and I’ve been talking Swedish ever since.
SHUSTER: So you learned Swedish in Africa?
OGREN: Well, I learned it in America, in our church when we had Swedish services. But I hadn’t used it and...except an occasional word now and then. But then I did start to use it. I did...I become very proficient in Swedish, so people in Sweden thought I was born Swedish, which I appreciate. I appreciate my Swedish heritage very much.
SHUSTER: You went on Leopoldville?
OGREN: We stayed then. That was before the Palm Sunday, on a...Friday, I think. A Thursday. On Friday we went to...to the custom office and took care of things there. Then it was on Saturday and Sunday we could not do anything. On Monday we had to wind upon our business affairs with customs and the officers there. We had a baggage all ready and checked ready to go on train on Tuesday morning. And the train ride from Matadi to Leopoldville village is 7 o’clock to 6 o’clock, so it was eleven hours. And the reason why you take the train there is because at Matadi the Congo River becomes not navigable. It’s rapid...it is a thousand feet drop, I think, in those two hundred miles. The river is just impassible for boats. And so the railway was build in late 1880s, so you take that nice little train ride. It was very interesting to have a train ride into Congo, all beautiful railways stations...railways station, all landscaped beautifully and lovely flowers, happy Africans all over the place. It was a great experience. We felt at home.
SHUSTER: I was gonna ask what was your first impression on these first few days in Congo?
OGREN: Very well impressed with whole...well, even the officials in...in a Matadi, the government....
SHUSTER: The colonial...?
OGREN: Right, the colonial men and the Africa personnel, just very intelligent, nice clean shirts with ties, very proficient. Go to the bank and they were black tellers there. We were amazed, you know, because you didn’t know what to expect. They were just lovely people and we were well received. Our impression of Congo was...was just very good.
SHUSTER: What about the land itself?
OGREN: The land itself, down in that area, the Palabala Hills outside of Matadi. That’s where the first Protestant came in 1878. After [Henry] Stanley [explorer and mercenary] had made his second trip to Africa and gone down the Congo River in his thousand days excursion, went out into the world and said what Africa needs or Congo needs is missionaries and there were Baptist missionaries in Cameroon and within a few months they...they went to the Congo and established mission work there in Palabala Hills. So that was country, very hilly and very rugged terrain all the way to Leopoldville. And arriving in Leopoldville was...a nice station, beautiful well landscaped; at end of the boulevard was a missionary personnel vehicle that was there to meet us and....
SHUSTER: A large crowd?
OGREN: A good crowd...I can’t remember but I suppose they might have been fifteen or twenty and Afr...some Africans.
SHUSTER: Did they always turn out in those numbers?
OGREN: Yes. Always...it was always a custom that when anybody come or went by airplane or train they was always a good group. Saying goodbye or saying hello, a very warm spirit. That was in 1948 and early ‘50s before independence. The attitude obviously changed...was changing, even the last few days we were there we noticed a difference in some changes in attitude of some Africans. A little more independent and a little more demanding and all and not denying that right to them but I mean there was a change. At first they said...the first year they said that black skin was no good. The white skin....
SHUSTER: Who were saying that?
OGREN: The Africans were saying that to me, because I had some good friends in the African community, you know, that I am sure would have laid down their life to protect me if that came to that. I know they said that, “The African skin that is no good, white skin is what counts in this world,” and so forth. That started to change. They got a little pride in themselves and this was good. And I encouraged it.
SHUSTER: You mentioned that you arrived on Monday and were working....
OGREN: We arrived on Tuesday night and went to work on Wednesday morning, right eight o’clock. Dr. Carpenter wouldn’t wait. He said come on over. He introduced me the people who he had working there. Some who would...well, were working in the book store and were working in the shipping room and now the press was gonna get started and many of fellows were working on building or in the book store were anticipating the possibility of working in the press, this was a new venture. There was a lot of excitement there. And, of course, word travels around a city like Leopoldville. They were right outside at the door. There might have been about twenty-five Africans looking for a job in the morning. And eventually I just hired...I hired maybe three or four fellows. Maybe after two weeks I had to let two of those go and keep one.
SHUSTER: Why was that?
OGREN: It was a matter of elimination to find...you know, after I found out how they could do and what their attitude was. And we eventually...we also hired a couple, a top notch craftsman from a couple of other printing firms. There were two daily papers in Leopoldville with high class equipment and good people. So we hired a few of those. I thought it was necessary to get some key men in there to center our operation around to and even though it was somewhat new to them, the responsibilities and all, it was a good thing and.... But most of the people were...all were related to the Protestant church and were church members and so forth. It was sort of we expected we would have Christian working in our plant.
SHUSTER: Did your wife work part time as a nurse. Was she...?
OGREN: No. With a family of three and under difficult circumstance. And off course she had no...in order to be a nurse, she would have to be certified by the government. And that was not a possibility. But she was busy with off course with the family but she automatically become the nurse for the...for the staff of the African when we had fifty and sixty of them. They would come with their babies and their wives and their soul hurt and all kind...and so she was so busy, you know, day after day with that. We had a lot of Africans come to our home for that reason. The baby would be sick and they want to come on Sunday afternoon or someday time whatever it was. It was very interesting. We had as a lot contact.
SHUSTER: Did you live in the same place the whole time you were there?
OGREN: For the first four years we lived in a very nice Spanish-style home that was half a block from the press building and....
SHUSTER: Was it owned by the mission?
OGREN: It was owned by the press...yes, by the corporation. It had been built by Dr. Carpenter for his use as the administrator and the man in charge. And he went on furlough and we lived in the building because we had a family, we needed the space. And then when we returned for the second term, we made apartments above the building, above the press in the second story and lived in apartments in the second floor, which was very nice.
SHUSTER: What were your main objectives when you began the printing press?
OGREN: Well, one was as a matter of philosophy. I just said to the Africans and I guess I said to the people on the board...to the missionaries, that I don’t know how interested they were but I am sure they were because they wanted to know what was happening out of this venture they had started. [chuckles] And I was the man that had to make it work. So...I remember saying, especially to Africans, “We’re gonna have the best printing press in all Africa, the best personnel, the best paid, the best quality production, in the neatest place.” And that was our goal. And it worked that way. They realized they had to have a pride in what they were doing. And we had to give them discipline. They used to come to...when it first started they would come to work at eight o’clock, 8:15, whenever they felt like it, seemed that was their pattern. Well, that couldn’t be. So we changed to 7 o’clock. And if there were not there at 7 o’clock, if they were half a minute late they we docked one franc, if they were not there. So we did. There was...we established a board, two boards with little tags on and their number and each man had a number. I can still recall every...almost every number of every fellow in that, after all these years, ‘cause it become such a ritual with us, that if one came in a minute late, right at seven o’clock, I took those that weren’t, exchange over and I exchanged them and they were just late. No, I left them there. That was the indication really and they were docked. They started feeling the hurt of losing money. And eventually I saw them coming running on the rain, out of breath trying to get there on time. I remember more than one argument when some of the old established fellows who were really the chiefs of the African family there came in and I say, “You are late.” And I remember they would say, “I’m not late.” “Oh yes, you’re late.” “Oh no, I’m not.” “Oh yes, you’re a late. I am the chief here so you are late.” And then they learned and they didn’t come late. And so that was very important. And then to keep the place clean and to keep themselves clean. We had one fellow, he was dirty. Otherwise most Africans were just absolutely spotless. Believe it or not. They lived in this little huts and all but the washed themselves. We furnished them soap. So they had no excuse for that. There was one fellow, Joseph, every once in a while I had to go in and talk to him ‘cause he smelled, just didn’t wash his clothes. And it was not an easy thing for me a white to go up to an African and say, “Hi Joe, here is the bar soap, why don’t you take the day off and come back tomorrow. We’ll see you.” And Big Joe had a nice personality and grin. And he had to stand in front of all his friends, which was humiliating to walk down the isle and out the door to go home. ‘Cause I sent him home to get cleaned. He come back the following morning and the place roared. But they knew they had to be clean and they had to keep the place clean. We painted the aisle between...all equipment different colors. Everything had to be in its proper place. You couldn’t have paper stacks stacked here, stuck over there. No dirty rags, no nothing. Because I was...it was not only a production, but also a teaching ministry for them. And we had a good print shop and people in the community who had been in the printing business for fifty years respected what we were, had. We had good a reputation. We did work for the all of central Africa.
SHUSTER: How many people worked in the print shop?
OGREN: We had...as I recall, we had about forty in the shop and I suppose we had twenty more in the book store and shipping room and so on.
SHUSTER: When you first came?
OGREN: Well, no, no. There was nobody on the print shop, see, when I come.
OGREN: There was no one there. It was just ready to go to work. In fact there was no wiring...it hadn’t been even been wired yet. We had to wait a few weeks for that to get going. So in those interim or those days of waiting we had to hire people and get accustomed to it and so forth.
SHUSTER: Why don’t you give us a little bit of the background on how LECO was formed and the purposes it was to meet?
OGREN: Well, during the war...the Second World War supplies to the mission was very difficult. And so they needed someone in capital city to...or some center to co-ordinate these efforts. Missions societies all over could not get.... Shipping was atrocious. It was just bad. So it was...was... So Dr. Carpenter and the committee there realized that they...
.SHUSTER: Now what was Carpenter’s position?
OGREN: Dr. Carpenter was the executive director of La Librairie Ecangdiqite au Congo, and he was...he was running the bookstore and the office of supply operation during the war. This is the supplier center for the mission. ‘Cause it was just next impossible for individual missions to make contact with the outside world and to get supplies. But with one source he was able to, he being an America and many of the missionaries were Europeans. The European’s supplies were completely gone. So they turned to the Americans. And he begin American Baptist Missionary he had contact with his American Baptist office and the Methodist board and others. So he was able to make supplies available to the missionaries societies. With that begin established and they and...he begin progressive kind of man, thought they ought to get into printing business. For the same reason. To get a good size printing plant. So that they work could be done and manuscripts that had been accumulating through the years...they were many manuscripts that had never be able to get to be published or printed.
SHUSTER: What kind of manuscripts?
OGREN; Manuscript of school books and you know, of Bible lessons and so forth that just never got printed. And could never been used and they...that were never printed. The demand was on education. The government after the war was now to subsidize Protestant schools. There was money there for schools building for school teachers and for school books. Someone had to get them printed. And so the result was there was the need, there was the money available. And they just thought that the next things was to get a printing a plant. So the could be printed right there and shipped out. So we operated as printing plant as well as book publisher and bookseller. And that’s really how LECO Press got started and as I said he being a graduate engineer and a PhD in education, and [an] ordained minister, he had all the qualification to head that operation up, a brilliant man. And that how we came into the picture, to do then mechanics and it worked for his satisfaction and everyone else.
SHUSTER: What was you impression of George Carpenter?
OGREN: Well, I have great love for George. Carpenter...he was like an older brother to me, he was about ten years old than me. A very humble man. And very respectful of me...very co-operative. Everything “Oh fine.” You know, a positive thinker. That was not true or is not true of all missionaries on the field ‘cause I know missionaries who were in Board who would come up to me and say “Well, You cant pay them this kind of money, you know you will spoil them and you cant do this or you will spoil them.” I never agreed with their philosophy at all. I had to take the philosophy that I brought with me from America and George Carpenter’s was the same as mine that we would get the best qualified Africans there, we would pay them the best price and we would have the best printing press in Africa. And he loved that..that attitude I had and I love his attitude so that. So obviously we were compatible and his wife was working in the bookstore and she was very kind to me. And we just had a wonderful relationship.
SHUSTER: Was he effective businessman and administrator?
OGREN: Oh yes..yes. He was... I don’t know if he was as careful with money that he should have been. Everybody has maybe some weakness. Maybe he outspent himself in the building. Or overspent in the building but who is to say that, but I know I have heard comments from some missionaries that well he really went over board but it’s proven that he didn’t. That building has been used for the glory of God and not even room.... And out of that bookstores were established all over central Congo, to further the Gospel. See it take a big men with a big vision to accomplish the facts and he didn’t get all the credit he should have had,.I don’t think. But I loved him and I appreciate what he was doing and what he had done.
SHUSTER: Was the bookstore and press tend to be self supporting or was there a regular subsidy?
OGREN; Oh yes. There was no subsidies from anyone. We made enough money for everyone including furlough salaries for our families or our insurance coverage and everything we had to be in the black ‘cause nobody gonna come in with more money and no body ever did.
SHUSTER: You mentioned the board a couple of times. Which board was that?
OGREN: Well, LECO had a board of its own made up of participating societies who would have a delegate on the board each. Each society had a member on the board.
SHUSTER: So there was the board and the director and...?
OGREN: Right. Board of directors who met maybe twice a year or whatever may have been necessary. But I also had a local committee which was made up of missionaries in Leopoldville which was functioning a core infant the first Sunday I was there, I came on a Tuesday night and I think the next Sunday they had a meeting. Because the economy...I mean the money were running out and I was glad to have that meeting ‘Cause I remember at that meeting well “I recognize that the British Bible Foreign societies has twenty thousand dollars in here. And if they are to expect that the moment we get out that our press is running they gonna want New Testament printed and published”. I said ,“no way because we don’t have the equipment.” And some of them, most of the fellows were not aware of printing mechanics or operations of production and they weren’t aware and I felt that was my responsibility to say this right off the start. And I know the chairman of the committee, who was head of the British Missionary Society, said that he really appreciated my honesty...my..my honest opinion. He didn’t think that was any problem but they did notify the British Bible Society that we are not gonna be ready to doing New Testament for them next week. But that was no problem and it he never become that concerned. In fact I don’t know in the whole ..the eight years that I was there if we did much for the British and Foreign Bible Society they were really supporting us. Eventually they did establish a Bible society office in Leopoldville and work was coming in but....
SHUSTER: So what was the purpose of this local committee?
OGREN: Oh, the local committee handled any grievances on...that I might have or that Dr. Carpenter might have or if there was a shortage of money, what could we do or just what any local problem or hiring personnel or whatever it might have been, if there was any problem, especially in regard to missionaries and of course adding to the staff ‘cause we did...we did hire a bookkeeper, a Belgian who was hired by the local committee and I...and the replacement personnel for Dr. Carpenter and for me this was all and they had tab on the...on the fiances generally and how thing were running. So there was somebody there. We were not completely alone. There was someone to turn to for some help.
SHUSTER: Was Dr. Carpenter there the whole time that you were there?
OGREN: No he went...see, he went...he was waiting for us to come in 1948 and replacement came, Reverend Braun, Willis Braun from the Christian Missionary Alliance down in Boma and his wife Grace came up and spent a year to replace Dr. Carpenter to keep the thing moving.
SHUSTER: When was that?
OGREN: That was in 1948-49 and Dr. Carpenter was home then that year on furlough. He came back in '49 and was there until about...well, I'm not sure when it was. I think just a couple years then he went to New York and became secretary for the African Committee for the World Council of Churches.
SHUSTER: And who replaced him?
OGREN: Well, then Reverend Robert Bontrager and his wife Mabel who were missionaries with the Congo Inland Mission.
SHUSTER: How do you...do you know how to spell “Bontrager?”
OGREN: B-o-n-t-r-a-g-e-r, Robert Bontrager, and they came.... They were well qualified. They'd had the year of French. He was a school teacher. He was a school teacher and a minister and they had no children so it was a...it was very nice for us. They came like aunt and uncle to our children which is beautiful, and weal ways went to get our picnics and it was like one family. To this day our kids still call Mabe and Bob, Uncle Bob and Aunt Mabe even though they're not there and we don't see each other very often, but so that was very pleasant, and he was a capable man even though he didn't have the rapport with the African that Dr. Carpenter had. Dr. Carpenter had the greatest respect from the Africans. The Africans loved him where that's not true of all missionaries.
SHUSTER: Why do you think that was?
OGREN: Well, because he was a humble man, and a loving fellow, and he was interested in them. He was really pro-African, and I was too. I was accused of being that by British missionaries, which I thought was a great compliment, and he was certainly accused of being pro-, pro-African. His fault on the part of many missionaries was that he was too good to the Africans. Now if that can be such a thing as that or not, I don't know.
SHUSTER: How do they mean that, that pro-African or too good to the Africans?
OGREN: Well, I It's hard to analyze because we didn't give them much, we.... All I said before was the fact that we felt that...I felt that they ought to have good salary, better than the average shop. I felt we ought to be kind to them in every way, and be helpful and be concerned with them, and visit with them and their families and their villages. Treat them as friends, and not as somebody beneath us. And that is not true of all missionaries. They don't have that philosophy. They came as a leader, and that's the way they were going to be, and my friend Trevor Shaw who established the African Challenge for the Sudan Interior Mission wrote a book Through Ebony Eyes and he was so into...he was also was a layperson from New Zealand. He was so disenchanted with the missionary, many missionaries attitude toward Africans that he wrote this book Through Ebony Eyes, and it's really a condemnation of many missionaries through the years past. I, I even don't like to say this, ‘cause I love people. But it's a fact of life, 'cause I know British missionaries stood next to me at the airport waiting for someone to come in, and I would be standing maybe next to the Africans or what. All I got was from him was a word, "Well, don't stand next to the Africans. We are segregated; we are white leaders and these are the Africans.” That never entered my mind. These Africans are my friends; I'd rather stand next to them. These are fine points. I don't want to be critical, but....
SHUSTER: No, no I understand.
OGREN: It, it's true, and that's why Dr. Carpenter and I got along so well because we had no problem with the black people. [laughs] He loved them and they loved him. They would have died for him too. Now I'm not sure they would have died for everybody, because Dr. [Robert] Bontrager who was our friend has actually been told never to come back.
SHUSTER: By the Africans?
OGREN: By the Africans. They'll really get him. Now that's a...that's really a condemnation. Now, he was a wonderful guy, but he did have that ability to get to the African. He was sort of a...superior attitude. He was always a friend, good friend of mine in all, but that I've been told by the New York office; I know that's a fact. And another man that worked our there too, “Never come back.” George Carpenter could come back; I could come back.
SHUSTER: And this was by the African church?
OGREN: By the Africans...well, by the Africans that we work with, not really the church because we're not associated with any church. We were part of all the African churches. I used to go to any number of them, you know, African churches.
SHUSTER: What...how was it decided what the press would print?
OGREN: Well, as I indicated before, there were many manuscripts that were ready to be printed.
OGREN: Most of them by American Baptist because that's what Dr. Carpenter was - an American Baptist missionary. But other denominations had manuscripts ready too, and they just had them ready and submitted them, got a quotation how much would it cost to put it in book form, and we gave them a quote and we printed it. Now some missions maybe wouldn't have money so maybe that kept them from doing anything. Some missionary societies even though they may have been saying, “Well, we needed, we need books,” and all, but really never got off the ground and never got any books printed in the years that I was there, well, maybe one or two only, and some mission societies just used our press to the fullest and got all kinds of literature, got committees ready you know, editorial committees preparing manuscripts, mathematic books, hygiene books Bible stories books on theology. Did a very good theory book, two of them I think, for the American Presbyterians. They also had a press of their own but wasn't quite big enough to do some of the bigger books so we...we did those for them, and we did hymn books for the societies, some of them...two them...and they of course run four or five hundred pages and that would be a little bit hard for a small, smaller press to do. We...we could do that so we did those, so as I'd indicated before we had done the first four years, we done about fifty million pages, and really people were very happy with what had been accomplished, and I was too.
SHUSTER: What missions were especially active in literature work?
OGREN: Well, the United Presbyterians, they had their own press, but we also did work for them. The Methodists, we did work for the Methodists. They had their own plant down in Elizabeth village, but we did some work for them. The Baptist missionary society, which was British. They were right there so we did work for them, but they also had mission presses in various mission stations, but we did work for them, and we did work for the, for the Swedish mission as well, even though they had a press too in Midtabi, but that was not capable of doing big things so we did things for them, and the American Baptists who were in Leopoldville, I suppose we did most work for them.
OGREN: But then we did a couple magazines for the Congo Protestant Council which was an established organization representing all the Protestant missions in, in the Congo, been established many years before, and (with an executive director there in Leopoldville). We published the Congo Mission News in English for the missionaries and...and the Belgian Afrique which was a religious publication in French. We did that every six to eight times a year, I guess.
SHUSTER: Did the...did you actually publish anything yourself.
OGREN: Yes, right and then we also published some books for LECO as, as a publishing house, and put them on the market and sold them.
SHUSTER: Who acted as editorial committee for those...
OGREN: Well, Dr. Carpenter when he was there or we...we would if, in.... And most of those were in the Kikongo language or in Lingala because Kikongo was the language, tribal language, in that area (lower Congo), and a big language, a big, bigger geographical area and Lingala was the...the language which was used throughout all Congo. We published a Lingala hymn book, which is being used even today and was distributed up and down the whole Congo River area, and cause most people can use Lingala like Swahili over in East Africa. It's sort of a language that anybody can use.
SHUSTER: How many languages did you publish in?
OGREN: Well, we published in...in as I recall about twenty different languages including English. And that was no problem. It was interestingly, in, or interesting that the type setters would make less mistakes in other languages than they would in their own, because in their own language they become careless.
OGREN: But in other languages they followed character by character. If the manuscript was correct, that's what came our of the machinery. And same way with the proof-reading, ‘cause I proof-read. That's what I spent most of my time with other than the book work, the time keeping, and the costs (I had to do all the estimating of course), all the buying and for supplies, and personnel problems and all, but the rest of my time was...was spent in, in proof-reading the proofs as they came off our equipment before the customer got them, the galley proofs and then I'd give them a final check over. And most of the time I would find errors, because unless people are accustomed to proof-reading, they miss errors you know in their own language, and if I had a good manuscript, it was no problem for me, I just read character by character and I just made the changes, that was all. So I spend a lot of time doing that.
SHUSTER: What about sources of supply. Was that a problem?
OGREN: Well, it usually wasn't, because after the war things were opening up and so forth. Our monotype of equipment we had serviced out of the Johannesburg office. A man would come and service that occasionally.
SHUSTER: And that was some, what, thousand miles away?
OGREN: Well, that's more than that, that's about 2,500 miles I would think. I really don't know the exact mileage, but I would think so knowing how big Africa is. I've been around it, and I know how true it is. The other supplies...we could buy some paper with the Courier de Afrique, the local paper. They did printing also, commercial printing and so we could buy a few ton of paper along with a shipment of theirs. We did that quite often, and we could buy ink from them. We didn't have to if we had...we may have ordered...usually that material came from England. We ordered paper and ink and roller compound from, from England and...and book binding cloth and thread. And wire we got from America because we used copper wire because of the humidity over there. Steel wire just didn't last at all. In a couple of weeks they were starting to rust, but, so we used copper wire when we could, so that was no real great problem. I remember one time when we couldn't get the man to come from Johannesburg, because that is a long ways to service our monotype equipment. And the humidity in the Congo is tremendous. It's just it's like living in a soup kettle almost, and the result was of course, the machinery rusts. You have to be so careful, and my type of machine uses very precision equipment, and the keyboard was all stuck up one day. Well, we had the manual. I didn't know that monotype keyboard, and the African didn’t, but between the two of us he took...he did all the work, took it apart completely, all the pieces. We cleaned our all the rust and put it back together and it worked. So we had to do things that, that in that country which you would never do in America or Europe [chuckles] including making rollers for the press. You never make a printing press roller in this country.
SHUSTER: How did you make them?
OGREN: You buy them. We made them ourselves out there.
SHUSTER: From what?
OGREN: From...well, we bought the compound, a good compound which was treated for the tropics. It was a little bit firmer. And I had an African.... As I said before these Africans are so, so capable and learn so well, were so neat and concerned. And this fellow, I can still see him, taking the rubber compound, putting it in a five gallon can (nothing fancy), putting it out over an open fire with a double oven, and have...boil that stuff ‘til it became a liquid. And he'd work on the molds that we had, and he'd swab them out with oil and he'd look at them...there was no imperfections and there are no spots of any kind, and then he'd put it in a stand, and then pour it in with a little ladle, and they were seasoned, and then the next day we would take them out, and then we'd let them sit for a few weeks, and we made rollers not only for ourselves, but for other mission presses. And they were just as long lasting there as they were here, in this country.
SHUSTER: What was the tempo of the work in the shop. Was it about the same as it would be say in a good shop in the U.S.?
OGREN: The tempo?
OGREN: Well, it might have been better.
OGREN: 'Cause we put them on piece work, where we could, and those Africans worked. The first year, we didn't have a folding machine, and we had to fold everything by hand. Well, that could be a disaster. They could sit there and talk about what they did yesterday and last night, what they're going to do tomorrow, or over the weekend and they never get any work done because they're human, and maybe more human than some of us [chuckles], I don't know. But anyway so overcome that and put them on piecework and I'm telling you that changed the tempo. ‘Cause they could work and that was the difference. But as far as machinery goes they..they did a good job. There were...I didn’t stand any fooling around.
SHUSTER: Did you have any...a backlog?
OGREN: A what?
SHUSTER: Backlog of work or you doing pretty well?
OGREN: Oh yes, the first few years we had a backlog all the time then we were finally catching up with it. Then they were period of times in the second term that maybe we didn’t have...but then we would publish our own..we would put our own book in the press or something like that or a reprint on something. So did didn’t happen often. I would say that eight years that I was there it was...it was quite productive.
SHUSTER: And did a training for them for more skilled positions or for the supervisor position in the shop?
OGREN: Well, I...had I stayed there longer I was in the process for training as far as the operation in management of estimating. I had one man who was a superb young fellow. He was a cousin of my original monitor- keyboard operator and he come in and learned the keyboard I had two of the them so that they could take turns when one was sick so that we would still have production. Infant the first men we had, he was very good, but this other fellow was just as good. But in fact a commercial press over in Brazzaville hired him. We weren’t too busy for that period of time. He wanted to hire him away but my men didn’t want him to leave either but I did give him permission to go for a few days to work and work for the this French printer doing keyboard work. So he was well qualified and well respected. And that he...when I left he subsequently went to the government printing office. In Leopoldville. They wanted him, too. He was a good man and he trained him in our shop...very good. And we were in the process...and I was getting some help..I was getting some proof reading done by this one fellow and he subsequently went to Europe, got a college education. Good man. Still there. He was running...he is the African in charge. I don’t know what his status is right now. I don’t know wether he is there because this is many years latter but for several years he was in charge of the place.
SHUSTER: Did you endeavor to hire Christian workmen
OGREN: Yes we did. And one other little side question that I had was that, just to be a little bit facetious I guess was “Do love your mother?” ‘Cause I always loved mine well and I don’t like fellow who don’t love their mother. I think there are different breed. I think boys need to love their mother. I think the relationship...the relationship between mother and son and
SHUSTER: What is the quest when you ask when you were hiring?
OGREN: You know...sort of a joking way. “Hey Joe, do you love your mother?” and out there they have many mothers. They have their own mere propre [French for “own mother”] which is their....
OGREN: Real mother, biological mother. And then all the sisters that she has, they are also their mother. You will have to ask that question if that was their mere propre when they come on day of funeral. “You were off three weeks ago when your mother died. Now you are off again for your mother dying.” So you have to be sure that they are not just going. They might even been a friend of their mother who they call mother. But I did that because I wanted to inject to a little bit of an additional dimension, I guess, in hiring. “Do you love your mother,” and they would always be shocked with that but I we had that kind of fellows who had respect for women. And generally I did want any riff-raff and we didn’t have any riff-raff
SHUSTER: Uh-huh. Did you...what was the relationship between different missions that you observe or didn’t you see that much of it?
OGREN: Not my relationship with them but between missions generally?
OGREN: Well, they said this, historically, and I observed this too, you know (I had no great background in that), the mission societies in Belgian Congo were as we;; knit together as any place as all missionary work in the world. When the Congo Protestant Council was the arm of the mission societies. So they...they represented all the missionary societies in the Congo as one person to the [colonial] government, which was important. They government didn’t have to deal with several...all the missionaries societies, everything was channeled through the secretary of the council. He was considered a real friend to the government and he was respected and he...and he....
SHUSTER: And who was that?
OGREN: Well, when we were there it was Rev. Joseph Erdemann [?] from Sweden. But before him was Rev. Wakelin Coxill from Britain and then were others that followed. Of course, now they have an African in that that position but...ah. That was the unifying factor and the result was as far as the government was concern there was one Protestant church, the Church of Christ in Congo. That what the membership cards were printed. All the missions societies...it wasn’t the Methodist or Presbyterian but the Church of Christ in Congo. Which was a very strong point. They result of that was that the Protestant Mission were well recognized and were subsidized by the government when there was money for them. The relationship between the mission society themselves that was good. They had meeting every year mainly in Leopoldville, we saw them all together. And sure, there was a good relationship.
SHUSTER: Did you see anything of any kind of conflict that you see in the United States and other countries between Evangelicals or Fundamentalists and liberal Protestants?
OGREN: That’s a good question. Because even in our mission field where we have two mission groups working together in the Ubangi [region], the mission Evangelique de l’Ubangi - that was the Covenant Church and Free church, working together as one. The Free Church was there first and needed helped and invited the Covenant to come in. So working as one. And I know have been at the Free Church and the Covenant Field back in 1950 I had a visit up there and was at an annual meeting. And the relationship between the two churches there was not quite like it is in this country [the United States]. And in I know that I expressed that, “Well, it is too bad that the mission boards at home can’t work like they do on the field.” Now, that was one personal experience that I had, an observation, and other concurred with that.
OGREN: I do not see there is any enmity here...but...there is some enmity...so jealousy. There is some problems. I know that for a fact and it is still there. Now whether the Presbyterians and the Methodists had any problems.... But In our case were two societies working as one Mission out there and representing to the Congo Protestant Council as well as to the Africans. I think it was beautiful, actually.
SHUSTER: What church did you yourself go to when you were in Leopoldville?
OGREN: In Leopoldville right across from where the building was and this was actually the British missionary compound, had been for many years, right at the Congo River. And they had given the land for missions and for a house and the given land for union mission hotel. They also had a church that was where the church we attend except when we went to the African villages. There were many church seating a thousand people. I would go ‘cause I was sang quite a bit. They used to ask me to come and sing and I would sing at big services out there. And sing in African languages - Kikongo, Lingala whatever it was necessary, I would sing.
SHUSTER: Did you learn many African Languages?
OGREN: No. I...I really tried to learn Lingala. And I’d be...I would studied at home in the evening and would come down and try to use my Lingala on the Africans. They wouldn’t talk to me. They would answer me in French. Because they wanted it to be known that they spoke French and at the point in the history of the Congo they weren’t interested in being African, they were interested in being European. And so they weren’t going to help me. They just laughed. And so I just quit, so we communicated in French and that’s the way it was.
SHUSTER: But you learned a few songs you said.
OGREN: Well, I could...the African language are phonetically very simple. There are based on our alphabet except for...Lingala does have three additional characters those I am aware of and you can learn a few different pronunciations without difficulty. In fact, I gave an address for the hospital nurses graduation class in Kikongo language, a twenty five minutes speech and really don’t know the language but there was no one else to do it. One missionary said, “Burt, you’ve got to do it, there is no one else around.” And this was a big, big thing an event like you would have at Swedish Covenant or Wesley Memorial [two hospitals in Chicago, Illinois], whatever. A big graduating class, about thirty, forty lovely African girls and all the government dignitaries there, six hundred people in the chapel. And I gave my address. And it was well received as.... They didn’t...nobody knew that I didn’t know the language. The way I did that was that I wrote it in English, went to my British missionary, he translated it onto Kikongo and I sat down at my dinning table with my monotype operator and he would tell me where to put on the emphasis, the breaks. ‘Cause I knew the language. I had heard so much and it was like, you know. And I had been reading it with no problem. As far as my pronunciation, was probably as good as anybody’s. I just almost memorized the speech and gave it. So anything is possible if...if you have to and it is in God’s will. [chuckles]
SHUSTER: What was the relationship between Roman Catholic missionaries or Roman Catholics and Protestants?
OGREN: Well, I can’t speak for what when on, I can speak for the years that we were there. We had a good relationship with the Catholic missionaries, some of them. I don’t know about all of them, but some of them. Many of them came to our bookstore, bought our books. Some even (to Dr. Carpenter and not to me, he could communicate with them better that I) said, “Well, you Protestants really have the right idea, you really got something good going. We envy you.”
SHUSTER: Was it any formal co-operation, projects between you?
OGREN: Not that I recall. Just, like I said they did come to our bookstore. Catholic sister come in bought things, catholic priest did. One thing I said more than once from the Catholic priests, and that is that they envied the protestant Missionaries because they had families. Because the strong bond in Africa and in other place was the family and they had no family. So the African perceived missionaries protestant missionaries, his wife and his children and...and they didn’t have that and they felt that they were a little bit at a loss for that in they ministry and I can understand that. Because one of the first things, you know, when they [Africans] would even ask our single missionary girls was “You mean don’t have husband? You are not married? Can’t understand that.” But it was a good relationship.
SHUSTER: Now, was the..was the Press in any way subordinate to or related to the Congo Protestant Council or was it...?
OGREN: Well, that was been sort of the..it was the parent organization but we were our own corporation
SHUSTER: Separate corporation.
OGREN: Yes, in our own board and so on. Even though the secretary of the Congo Protestant Council was...was...was one of ours directors, he was on the local committee. So there was a relationship there all the time.
SHUSTER: Did...what was the relationship with the colonial government?
OGREN: Well,...we didn’t have that much of a direct relationship with the government as publishing house, even though at times we would be invited to government functions.
OGREN: But the Congo Protestant Council and secretary was considered one of the dignitaries in the community and anything that went on in the government, he was always there representing the Protestant church.
OGREN: Which was a strong factor and that was one of additional good features about it because if there just many Protestant denominations and all had their own leaders calling on the government they would know who to.... No, he was considered...you known. when the King of Belgium came out for weeks visit, Rev. Erdemann[?] was there with the dignitaries and invited ti the state dinner and so forth
SHUSTER: But the press themselves didn’t have any involvement with the government?
OGREN: No, no. On the Secondary level we would be invited and we would be aware of things, not in the front ranks with the ambassadors. [chuckles]
SHUSTER: And there was no attempted regulation of what you were or should be doing.
OGREN: No, no control. Nothing like that, except that we were not- for-profit organization. We couldn’t take commercial work. Of course, I said, “That no problem. I didn’t come here to do commercial work. I could do that down in Illinois.” So I was not interested in doing.... Some of the people thought we ought to get some outside business and run that on the side. I said, “Forget it. If we don’t have enough work for the...for the..you know to do, mission work, there certainly has to be enough work to be done, then it would be too bad”
SHUSTER: Did the...did you see in the years that you were there signs of a growing desire for independence?
OGREN: Yes, the last...the last year we were there...well, on the part of the personnel, they we a little bit more demanding and....
SHUSTER: In what kind of things?
OGREN: Well, a little bit more pushy, a little bit more defiant. A little bit, not much. Just on the part of a couple of them. And one of the fellows, Ruben, his name was, Tuli [?]Ruben, whom I hired a nice, clean cut young men, eventually become a union leader. I found that later and I can understand because he was one that started to get a little demanding. “Well, what you going to do about this, chief[?]? You know, we think it ought to go this way.” and just little indications that something was gonna be happening. And this was in ‘55-‘56. It didn’t bother me because, hey, I’d say “Tony, cool it. You and I are friends.” But that may have worn out too. I don’t known how far I would have gone with what my attitude was. I may have had to swallow a few things too. I am not saying that. And we’d also notice when we were out at picnics (because I said we went down the river for picnics with the boats every so often) and the last time we went and that was the reason it was the last time, the boys in the villages who used to come and play around with our kids and have a lot ...a jolly time. They were getting pushy, sort of stand in the way when we moved our car, act a little haughty. I said to Mother [his wife], I said “It is changing. Somebody’s talking to them and they’re not the sweet boys they were and....” So we didn’t got back because we might have had some problems. They may have caused some problem with our automobile, you don’t know. And they did that eventually, they burnt cars eventually and ripped up tires and all, so we just thought, “Well, we won’t fight that. We just won’t bother them if that’s....” So it was coming.
SHUSTER: And what were your thoughts on the whole Congolese independence that developed later and....
OGREN: Well, when we were there, the Belgians...
SHUSTER: ...and the situation with the UN [United Nations].
OGREN: ...I have to say, I thought they were doing an excellent job, as good a job as any colonial power. And not knowing all what went on in other places, I thought they had done a good job up to a point. They took good care of the Africans. They...there were no hungry, starving people in the Congo. Well, there were only twelve, thirteen million, the population wasn’t great. So the could control it. They...but they didn’t..they gave them education, elementary education, secondary education. They established a university there. But they never let any African go overseas. And I suppose that’s any indication they were fearful of what they might learn out inside their own country.
OGREN: The first Africa that I’m aware of, who was a friend of ours, was a Baptist, British Baptist Missionary product, was a minister and he went to Belgium for three years to study. He was the first one. And he was a good friend of our. In fact we took him to the airport and sent him off. He had his last Sunday dinner with us in our home, Desenka Moka Emile [?], a brilliant man. He went to Belgium. He was there for three years and went back and after independence become the equivalent to the minister of education. So he brought back with him ideas but he was a Christian man and...but even they of course wouldn’t agree with all the policies of Belgian government. But the Belgians had done good job in medicine. All the Africans had medicine, they had hospitals care, they had everything. They were really well take care of. But the Belgians were afraid of what might happen. And when the riots started the Belgians were really scared and just threw up their hands, literally. I was not there but I heard from Trevor Shaw, my friend, who was there on a Sunday in Leopoldville. He had come up from a visit in the country and [Joseph] Kasa-Vubu [later first president of the independent Congo] was supposed to speak and the government said, “You better not speak today.” But the people had already gathered. And they started a riot. That was when the first riots started. They went in and burned some automobiles, Portugese automobiles basically and that caused some problems. But the Belgian got scared, threw up their arms, and left. But now they’ve been invited back because now the Africans realize they had it pretty good. And I used to the Africans that. I said, “Don’t knock the government too hard as you got it pretty good,” and they realized it now. ‘Cause they end of independence in Africa is chaotic. In the Congo alone they have over two hundred different tribe, two hundred different languages and they don’t love each other. And only a strong, strong man will ever keep them under control. Of course you have a strong man who is dictator [presumably Mobutu Sese Seko, president of Zaire 1965-1997] out there and keeps things in hand but they do some things over there, I guess, that shouldn’t be done. So it is a difficult situation, with that kind of...number of people and languages.
SHUSTER: Africa was like America was a hundred years ago do you recall that?
OGREN: Well, I remember saying that and I....
SHUSTER: And what you meant?
OGREN: I guess I was think of the wild West. I know it was a wild Congo and in the worst cities that were...New York and Philadelphia were growing cities and they were growing cities. I mean Leopoldville, Stelonville and other that were very modern when we were there and I suppose I hundred years from now maybe all Congo will be build up and.... But things are different in the world than they were maybe a hundred years ago. And I am not just sure if I would say that today.
SHUSTER: But you meant it was more like a frontier?
OGREN: Right, it was a frontier. You go to the interior and it was certainly much like it would have been five hundreds years ago, no different.. The cities were completely different, bus services, airplane coming from around the world. Lovely, nice, tall building offices as I indicate before the bank clerks and the people working in the post office, all nice and clean and shaven and educated and lovely looking people and nurses, doctor and so...you know. They have come along way in the years since we went there, 194...1948. But I love the Africa people. Well, they do have some difficulties with the climate. That’s a...that’s a hindrance for them and all the disease that why the never populated.. You take China, for instance with it billion people, they obviously didn’t die off. And in Africa I suppose for every child born three die. Or three or four. I don’t know what the ratio is. But many of them don’t live and the average span of life was thirty years as I remember when we were there in 1948. I suppose that has been upgraded some. But disease was so prevalent ‘cause we had disease of all kinds in our family. I had giardia, malaria, denque fever and a slight touch of polio, my daughter had spinal meningitis, my son had polio, they had malaria, so.... My wife had hepatitis. Almost all of us died, I almost did. You wouldn’t have the same thing happening to you in this country [United States].
SHUSTER: What was health care like?
OGREN: The health care was good, really. We had the facilities of what we called a European hospital with Europeans doctors and nurses, Catholic nuns and a good clinic where we could go and all our medicine was furnish free by the government. The dental service was..
SHUSTER: Was that just for the missionaries or was that for the...?
OGREN: Well, that was for the missionaries and for the personnel, the Belgians. They had all that and most of them working for the government, of course, would have been subsidized. I suppose they also would have received it free. And the Africans had also..we had an African hospital for them and a laboratory. So there was good...we were thankful for what was there. My one daughter had a fever and one day her right...left side of her face were paralyzed completely and we have seen people like that in this country and they have never been cured and they go through life that way. And we were obviously concerned about our eldest daughter, a lovely young girl, twelve years old. And we took her to the clinic and they gave her...I think it was arsenic in some doses to jolt the body and give her electric...therapeutic treatment. And she recovered. She still has a little bit of a difficulty with one eye, that it runs. And she still cannot wear lens. But other than that.... So we are happy for the medicine. We did. We had two children born there and the service was not the same as here, natural children birth with an African nurse and a sister doctor and that was it. I had the opportunity to take my little new born baby in arms out of right delivery room and follow down with my wife and bring her the baby [Shuster laughs] so those thing are a little different.
SHUSTER: I see we are almost out of tape, why don’t we stop there for this morning. I want to thank you for the interview.
OGREN: Well, I appreciate this opportunity. I am not sure that..I was not sure that I would after all these years be able to come back with...and there as no way I could cram for anything like this because I wouldn’t know where to begin. But an experience like that is such part of your life that many, many times I have said that I wouldn’t have created that experience for all the money in the world.
END OF TAPE
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Last Revised: 12/4/2013
© 2016 Wheaton College. All rights reserved. This transcript may be reused with the following publication credit: Used by permission of the Billy Graham Center Archives, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.2013